Forgive Us as We Forgive

How many times should I forgive? As much as we have been forgiven…

Deuteronomy 15:1-6; Matthew 18:21-35

reginald denny beatingDuring the LA riots over the Rodney King verdict in 1992, truck driver Reginald Denny unknowingly swung his 18-wheeler into the middle of the crowd, where he was dragged from his truck and viciously beaten within an inch of his life. The attack ended when one of the assailants took a concrete cinder block and smashed it into Denny’s head, causing 91 fractures of the skull. Some witnesses to the attack managed to get Denny back into his truck and took him to the hospital.

After a painful recovery, which has never been a full recovery, and after the trial of his assailants, Reginald Denny met face to face with one of the men who had beaten him, shook his hand, and forgave him. A reporter, commenting on the scene, wrote, “It is said that Mr. Denny is suffering from brain damage.”

On October 2, 2006, a troubled milk truck driver named Charlie Roberts walked into an Amish schoolhouse andamish-school-shooting-dd11c818a9fade0b shot ten little girls, killing five of them, before turning the gun on himself. The world stood amazed when the Amish community then surrounded Roberts’ wife and children and extended forgiveness to him, even attending his funeral. The world looked at this and said something like, “Well, they’re Amish. They are a little strange anyway.”

Brain damage, strangeness—that’s how the world viewed these events because forgiveness—especially in cases like this—isn’t rational, according to the way our world works. We expect something else—retribution, revenge, or at least a lawsuit to settle accounts with those who have wronged us. Someone who forgives such a wrong has to be brain damaged or naturally weird.

When most people think about forgiveness, it looks more like the story about the grandfather of writer James Thurber. When he was on his deathbed, Thurber’s grandfather was asked by his minister, “Have you forgiven all your enemies?” “Haven’t got any,” said the old man. “Remarkable!” the minister said. “But how did a red-blooded, two-fisted old battler like you go through life without making any enemies?” Grandpa Thurber explained casually: “I shot ’em.”

We don’t make a lot of movies about forgiveness. Arnold Schwarzenegger has never said, for example, “I’ll be back…to forgive them.” We don’t immediately think about forgiveness when the neighbors do something heinous, when that guy cuts us off on the highway. We don’t immediately move to forgive those who have wronged us, caused our lives to be turned upside down.

And yet, Jesus tells us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Continue reading →

The Lord and His Prayer: Your Kingdom Come

When we pray, “Your kingdom come” we are praying for a revolution.

Father Murphy walks into a pub in Donegal, and says to the first man he meets, “Do you want to go to heaven?”
The man said, “I do Father.”
The priest said, “Then stand over there against the wall.”
Then the priest asked the second man, “Do you want to got to heaven?”
“Certainly, Father,” was the man’s reply.
“Then stand over there against the wall,” said the priest.
Then Father Murphy walked up to O’Toole and said, “Do you want to go to heaven?”
O’Toole said, “No, I don’t Father.”
The priest said, “I don’t believe this. You mean to tell me that when you die you don’t want to go to heaven?”
O’Toole said, “Oh, when I die, yes. I thought you were getting a group together to go right now!”

It’s one of the great misunderstandings in Christian theology. Many Christians focus on the future reality of going to heaven when they die. We have hymns about that: “I’ll Fly Away,” for example. We imagine heaven, pearly gates, angels plunking on harps, etc.

But while we certainly have hope for life after death, that hope for us is resurrection (as we learned in our series in Acts), and while heaven might be a temporary place of rest and refreshment for those who have died, the ultimate hope of Christian faith isn’t that we spend eternity in a faraway heaven. Indeed, as today’s section of the prayer that Jesus taught us reveals, we are looking for the life of heaven, the kingdom of God, to come here. That’s what we pray for when we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Continue reading →

Great Online Bible Study Resource: FREE!

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 8.25.38 AM

The STEP Bible: stepbible.com

Yesterday, I had the privilege of spending a little time with Dr. Peter Williams, who is the Warden of Tyndale House in Cambridge, UK. Tyndale House (not affiliated with the publisher of the same name) is a study center for biblical scholarship, with an extensive library and facilities for hosting a variety of scholars and pastors right on the doorstep of the University of Cambridge. Tyndale House has a mission of raising up a new generation of orthodox biblical scholars and I really enjoyed talking with Peter and hearing about their work (also considering that as a possible sabbatical location someday!).

One of the things that Peter talked about, however, was a Tyndale House-created online resource for students of the Bible. It’s called the STEP (Scripture Tools for Every Person) Bible site (stepbible.org). It’s a very flexible resource that allows scholars, pastors, and students of the Bible to do quick word studies, cross references, concordance and lexicon work, and original language work all for free. The STEP Bible site will bring up interlinear English and Greek or Hebrew passages, as well as interlinears with a variety of world languages that interface with the original languages of Scripture (ever seen an interlinear Bible in Chinese?). Need to know what an English word is in the Greek? Just hover over it and the site will pop up a quick lexical definition of the Greek equivalent. It’s a marvelous tool that enables people from a variety of backgrounds and locations to access tools for biblical study that may be too expensive or too unavailable to them depending on where they are in the world.

Continue reading →

The Lord and His Prayer: Our Father

The Lord’s Prayer begins with a call to apprenticeship…

Exodus 4:22-23; Luke 11:1-13

slope prayer

Praying slope-side at Park City Mountain Resort, UT–Easter 2007

One of the occupational expectations of being a pastor is that you will always be called upon to pray for public events. I’ve prayed at church meetings, Memorial Day ceremonies, building dedications, and even prayed to open the Colorado State Senate. I’ve prayed at nearly every meal to which I’ve been invited (always a short grace, so that I will get invited back!). I’ve prayed in the Jordan River, at weddings, on cruise ships, tour busses, at interfaith gatherings, in police cars (not while under arrest), in jails, and in a host of other places where pastors are called on to pray because, well, we’re professionals. And I always say the same thing, “Yes, I’m a professional, but please try this at home.”

For many Christians, however, prayer is still an elusive concept. I have to admit that it’s something that I’ve struggled with over the years, even as a professional pray-er. How do you pray, what do you pray about, what does prayer actually accomplish, etc. I have a hard time being quiet in my own prayer time…is that bad? My mind wanders…does that mean I’m doing it wrong? Do I have to fold my hands and close my eyes? How do I pray for someone? Do I have to pray out loud? (always one of the most stressful things for people to do…we’ll share our most intimate secrets in a one-sided cell phone conversation but have trouble talking with God along with others). We don’t want to be embarrassed (though Linda Aldrich was telling me about being in Nebraska with a relative this week who offered to say grace at McDonald’s and did it loud enough for the burger flippers in the back to hear). Do I have to use Elizabethan English? Is prayer a magic formula to get what we want? There are lots of questions about prayer. I’m always impressed with someone who I think has a vital prayer life.

Continue reading →

Feeding with 5,000 (pounds, that is)

Emergency food drive for Tri-Lakes Cares and victims of the Black Forest Fire

Food DriveWell, it’s already the Labor Day weekend. Hard to believe that summer has gone by so fast, even though we’ve had our challenges during this season with fires and floods. As we move toward autumn, we continue to remember those who have been affected by this summer’s disasters and pray for new hope as a new season unfolds. One of the ways we can continue to help is by keeping the food pantry shelves at Tri-Lakes Cares full. Right now, TLC has some extreme shortages on food staples, which is why this Sunday we’re beginning another emergency food drive for TLC during the month of September. I’d like to challenge Tri-Lakes UMC to donate 5,000 pounds of food–or to use a more biblically recognizable goal, we’ll call it “Feeding with 5,000” (pounds, that is). Download this pdf list of TLC Food Needs and take it with you when you go for groceries this week.

You can bring the items with you to Tri-Lakes UMC or drop them off at Tri-Lakes Cares, just use our church name (Tri-Lakes UMC) so that we can track how much we’re giving. You can also make a monetary donation by writing “TLC” in the memo line of your check and dropping it in the offering plate this week, or donate online here using the “Specially Designated” fund line and put “TLC” in the Comment section. I also invite my out of town readers to consider donating online so that you can participate in this important work.Let’s make this a great outpouring of love for our neighbors who continue to struggle after a great tragedy.